The Shrine of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus in Nasonville, is the only place of pilgrimage in Rhode Island which has received official recognition by the Roman Catholic Church authorities. It was at one time nothing more than a mission under the jurisdiction of St. John’s Church, in Slatersville. For close to fifty years, a Priest would travel with horse and buggy from Slatersville, to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each Sunday in a former schoolhouse owned by the Wanskuck Company.
On August 23, 1923, Bishop William A. Hickey announced the creation of a new parish to care for the spiritual welfare of Catholics in the villages of Nasonville, Mohegan, Mount Pleasant, and Tarklin. Rev. A. P. Desrochers was named the parishes first pastor. Fr. Desrochers said the first Mass and spoke to the local parishioners for the first time on Sunday, August 26. At the suggestion of the Bishop, the parish was one of the first to take St. Theresa as it’s patron.
When the Church was founded, there was no intention of making it a shrine. Little did anyone know the great plans that God had for this former country mission, and the great miracles that would be worked there.
A sick woman, Mrs. Florilda Faford, from Mohegan, was used by God to help this small parish receive its distinction as a shrine. For the day after Fr. Desrochers was appointed pastor over the small parish, he was called to the bedside of Mrs. Faford, whose disease was classified incurable by medical science. The woman had been ill for eight long years and had undergone several major surgical operations, after which hope of her recovery had been abandoned by Boston specialists.
Fr. Desrochers asked the woman to place herself in the hands of the recently beatified saint who had become the local parishes patron. Although she was too weak to answer, she responded by squinting her eyes. The priest then said prayers over her, and when he visited the next day, she was well enough to converse with him. She also received a particle of the Sacred Host.
The very same day at 1:30 in the afternoon, Mrs. Faford got up from her bed, unaided, for the first time in months, and walked to the kitchen, where a sister, who had been taking care of her, almost fainted from surprise.
Unable to partake of any food for three days before, Mrs. Faford called for and ate a substantial meal. Even doctors who had treated her for years declared Mrs. Faford’s recovery was a miracle.
On November 6, 1924, ground was broken for the three buildings that now make up the parish property, a combination church and school, a rectory, and a convent.The buildings, were dedicated by Bishop William A. Hickey on Sunday, October 4, 1924, and placed under the patronage of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus.
The Sisters of the Assumption from Nicolet, Canada arrived on July 15, 1926 and the school, housed above the church, opened in September of the same year. Misfortune struck the parish when on Holy Saturday, 1926, the church was seriously damaged by a fire. Masses continued to be held in the convent and church hall while the repairs took place, and the church was rededicated on Sunday, August 15, 1926. In 1927 – 1928, Fr. Desrochers erected an outdoor shrine and an open air altar.
The Holy Stairs and Stations of the Cross
On October 5, 1934, Fr. Adelard Laliberte succeeded Fr. Desrochers as the second pastor of St. Theresa the Little Flower of Jesus. Fr. Laliberte built the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) with a reproduction of the Limpias Crucifix, and outdoor Stations of the Cross. Nearly 5000 persons attended the dedication of the Holy stairs and the Limpias Crucifix, at which Rt. Rev. Msgr. Peter A Foley, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Pawtucket, represented Bishop Francis P. Keough and presided during the ceremonies.
Fr. Gedeon I. Lambert, was appointed pastor at Nasonville, on October 17, 1935, succeeding Father Laliberte. During Fr. Lambert’s pastorate, he directed several improvements to the shrine, to make it more accessible to prospective pilgrims. He had signs placed on principal highways pointing the way to the shrine, and built a new road around the church. Fr. Lambert also established an oratory in the church and had the reproduction of the Limpias Crucifix, which was formerly located at the top of the Holy Stairs, within the church.
As pastor, Fr. Lambert organized several pilgrimages to the shrine and had as many as 7000 people present on a single occasion. In July, 1941, Fr. Lambert began a construction program to replace the outdoor, wooden, Stations of the Cross with new stone relief tablets. The work was done by Amedeo Nardini, a world famous sculptor from Quincy, Mass. Stones for the stations came from around the state and country, including Colorado and New Hampshire. To sculpture the stations, required about five and one half months work average on each of the fourteen stations. Fr. Lambert was succeeded after his death on August 31, 1945 by Fr. Lionel Dion.
Fr. Dion reconstructed the entrance of the church. He also erected the stone Scala sancta. The stone Scala Sancta, are 28 steps, made of fieldstone, limestone and granite, and patterned after the Holy stairs which Jesus ascended and descended during His passion. The Holy Stairs were dedicated in a solemn ceremony on July 15, 1956, by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Stephen Grenier. During his pastorate, Fr. Dion also replaced the outdoor wooden chapel with a new chapel made of Vermont granite and marble and Tennessee crab orchard stones. It was built by Peter Kapas of Pascoag, and dedicated by Msgr. Grenier.
On April 13, 1962, Fr. Dion went to his eternal reward. The next pastor was the Rev. George L Girouard. In 1963, Fr. Girouard renovated the Church, the convent, the rectory and the school. Fr. Girouard remained pastor until 1968 and was succeeded by Rev. Henri D. Morin. Fr. Morin saw some difficult times for the little parish under the patronage of St. Theresa. In 1969, St. Theresa’s School closed it’s doors for the last time after contributing 43 years of Catholic Education. Also the Sisters of the Assumption who had staffed the school were reassigned outside the diocese. During Fr. Morin’s pastorate, a fire struck the churches sacristy.
In 1972, Rev. Lucien Ledoux succeeded Fr. Morin as pastor of St. Theresa’s. During his pastorate, the parish celebrated it’s 50th jubilee. To mark the occasion, there was a special concelebrated Mass with Bishop Louis E. Gelineau as principal celebrant and homilist.
Through the years, and due to the failing health of Fr. Ledoux, the Shrine was let go – the grounds became over-run with weeds and overgrown trees, the various shrines started to decay and fall apart due to lack of maintenance and vandals.
When Rev. Robert Carpentier was appointed pastor in 1981, one of his major objectives was to see the restoration of the Shrine. During his pastorate, the church interior was renovated and a new vestibule was added to the entrance of the church building. Yearly devotions and outdoor Masses were held in the Shrine grounds. Parishioners began weeding, cutting trees, planting flowers and other needed maintenance projects.
In 1991, Rev. John P. Dery was appointed to succeed Fr. Carpentier. Fr. Dery also had the Shrine’s restoration at the top of his priorities. During his pastorate, some of the old stone stations that had been demolished and buried were rebuilt by parishioners and other area volunteers.
St. Theresa’s Shrine 1990s- Present
During the summer of 1994, Jerry Finelli approached Fr. Deary with a desire to build an outdoor 15 decade rosary. Fr. Deary gave his blessing with the stipulation that Mr. Finelli would find the money to see the project to completion. For a little over one month, Jerry and Shirley Finelli raised the finances necessary for the rosary project. During that summer, the Finelli’s and a number of other parishioners cleared the woods behind the stations and outdoor altar to build the beautiful 15 decade living Rosary with a statue of Our Lady of Peace sitting atop a fountain. During his administration, Fr. Deary appointed Jerry and Shirley Finelli co-chairpersons of the shrine. On August 21, 1994, the an annual patronal feast celebration was reintroduced. Fr. Deary passed away suddenly on December 4, 1996. From 1997 through 2004, the parish was under the leadership of several pastors, in which several shrine projects occurred. The Pieta shrine added by the Knights of Columbus. A room of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Mother, the Divine Mercy and Tomb of Jesus under the Holy Stairs and the Tomb a Garden of the Resurrection was added. In June 2004, Fr. Gerard Caron was appointed the new pastor of St. Theresa’s. Fr. Caron returned the tabernacle to the center of the sanctuary and a picture of the Divine Mercy. In 2015, Father Michael J. McMahon was appointed pastor of St. Theresa's, in addition to serving as pastor of Our Lady of Good Help Church in Mapleville. That year, the two parishes were yoked and began sharing pastoral resources. In 2016, Fr. McMahon installed a new wooden sanctuary floor and is working to restore many traditional elements of the shrine. In 2018, Mark Garrepy was appointed lay shrine coordinator. St. Theresa parish merged with Our Lady of Good Help in 2019. The newly erected parish is named Our Lady of Good Help Parish & St. Theresa Shrine.
St. Theresa’s Parish and Shrine in Nasonville, Rhode Island has many events through the summer and the year. Each year, the Annual Feast Day is held on the 3rd Sunday of August. With the help of St. Theresa, the shrine has been restored back to its original beauty and many enhancements have been and continue to be added increase the beauty and prayerfulness of this holy place.
The first Shrine dedicated to the Little Flower, continues to be a place of quiet refuge and spiritual refreshment for all who come.